Where’s George Osborne? I’m curious … CiF 2010 post #1

by Stephen Tall on April 8, 2010

I’ll be doing a series of blog-posts for The Guardian’s Comment Is Free website during the course of the election campaign – the first one, cross-posted below, highlights the Tories determined attempt to hide George Osborne from the national spotlight.

A number of commenters noted he’s not the only missing Tory: shadow home secretary Chris Grayling is also MIA. What does it say about the Tory front-bench that two of their three most senior shadow cabinet members have to be hidden away in case they scare off the voters?

What do you do with a problem like George Osborne? The Tory shadow chancellor is viewed – both by Lib Dem and Labour strategists – as the weak link in David Cameron’s team, unable to connect with the public, and unable to convince business that he has what it takes.

In some ways this mistrust is odd: the Tories’ ‘Boy George’ is no less experienced than ‘Sunshine Dave’. But appearance matters. And when it comes to choosing who you would want as Chancellor, most people will plump for the experienced economist (Vince Cable) or the no-frills solicitor (Alistair Darling) over the sharp-suited spiv: alas, poor George.

Tory campaign managers have, it seems, reached a similar conclusion. As the three major parties launched their respective campaigns yesterday, the omnipresent St Vince appeared to have been welded to Nick Clegg’s side, a perpetual reminder of the Lib Dems’ twin leadership ticket.

Meanwhile Gordon Brown surrounded himself with his entire cabinet, including Mr Darling.

The Tories, though, are taking the risk of building their campaign around their leader, calculating that Mr Cameron is their best (perhaps their only) asset.

And where was George? Well, according to my spies, he was sighted in Luton at EasyJet accompanied by one reporter. His last speech, according to the Tory website, was on 29th March, but nothing since then.

The Tories do, of course, have some form when it comes to sidelining their economic spokesmen for the duration of an election campaign. In 2001 Oliver Letwin, then the party’s treasury number two, was exiled by Tory HQ after he made the mistake of being open and honest about the extent of the Tories’ plans to cut public spending.

Has the same fate befallen George?